Social work students join medical, nursing school peers to provide service at Student-Run Free Clinic

free clinic
From left to right: Mandel School students Gina Garrett, Eric Moizuk, and Stephanie Garcia consulting with their preceptor, Barb Anthony at The Free Clinic. Photographer: Rob Muller

In addition to medical attention for acute illnesses, Northeast Ohio residents can now turn to Case Western Reserve University’s Student-Run Free Clinic (SRFC) for social work services.

In a broad cross-disciplinary approach that stresses coordination and cooperation among multiple health professions, social work student volunteers from the Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel School of Applied Social Sciences join students from the university’s medical and nursing schools to offer free services to the uninsured. Patients must be at least 18 years old.

The acute-care, walk-in clinic, which opened in October 2011, is operated entirely by students, from check-in to discharge. It’s housed in the Free Medical Clinic of Greater Cleveland (12201 Euclid Ave. in University Circle), easily accessible by public transportation. The clinic is open semimonthly on Saturdays from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Student nurses and doctors are supervised by faculty from both schools and offer free care for patients with such acute medical needs as flu, strep throat and sexually transmitted diseases. The clinic also provides work physicals to patients who may not have a regular doctor.

Patient numbers continue to climb

Since the clinic’s opening, students have treated 551 patients, including 241 so far in the 2013-14 school year, according to first-year social work student Eric Moizuk, co-director of the clinic’s quality assurance.

During each clinic, approximately 25 volunteers staff the operation:

  • 15 student clinicians (five teams of three students each)
  • Three students at the front desk
  • Four student board members, including clinical coordinators
  • Two licensed preceptors (faculty)
  • The medical director

The students provide about 3,600 volunteer hours annually.

Many faculty members from both schools volunteer in the clinic as preceptors, while others work with students outside the clinic as advisors, on quality improvement and outreach programs.

“The students are amazingly independent,” said faculty adviser Ellen Luebbers.

With the addition of social work students, SRFC expands its services to include such assistance as helping patients navigate Medicaid applications and new government-sponsored health-care options. Mental health referrals and health education are also now offered.

As in medicine and nursing, social work students are monitored and advised by licensed social work instructors or practicing social workers.

The clinic was founded with grant support from the Josiah Macy Jr. Foundation. The four-year grant has supported the SRFC as well as other interprofessional programs at CWRU. A 20-member interprofessional student board manages clinic operations, outreach programs, quality improvement and fund raising, including a 5K run on April 19.

The idea for the clinic was to help students in each profession—early in their education—understand the strengths each brings to patient care while serving those in need.

While dental students are not technically part of the SRFC, two dental students at a time rotate and see patients through the Free Clinic as part of their curriculum.

“The real-life setting and early exposure to patients provide experiences in which they can learn patient-centered collaborative care,” Luebbers said. “This group of students learns about the other professions in a very personal way, working through differences in (each profession’s) language, differences in the way professions do things and conflicting schedules.”

While Moizuk’s field placement work connects him to other social workers, he said working with professionals and students from other disciplines has been a learning experience.

“The leadership opportunities have taught me about organization and management while working with a large team of people that I find to be a very valuable foundation for my professional career,” he said.

Working in student doctor-nurse teams, the volunteers meet with patients, take medical histories and conduct examinations. Medicines, if needed, are called into a local pharmacy, where student couriers pick up prescriptions when patients can’t.

Even a dose of team training was recently added to the interprofessional mix.

Ellen Burts-Cooper, an alumna of the Weatherhead School of Management and senior managing partner of Improve Consulting and Training Group, gave the SRFC board free team training to help foster interprofessional work.

“Every year, the new board takes the clinic to a new level,” Luebbers said. “It is quite inspiring.”

Clinic expands social work school’s community service

Stephanie Garcia, the student social work clinical coordinator, is integrating the social work students into the interprofessional team. She coordinates activities with the newly appointed 2014-15 student directors, first-year medical student Kelly Manger and first-year master of nursing student Alexa Lange.

SRFC’s mission from the beginning has been “To Serve, To Learn, To Collaborate,” Lange said.

“We have greatly expanded in all three of these areas,” she said, “but I think the expansion of the collaboration piece is the most interesting and is a great reflection of the changing health care landscape in which nursing and social work are taking on more vital roles in completing the patient-care experience.”

Outgoing board member and Vice Director Elliot Schwartz was instrumental in bringing in the social work students. He worked with second-year social work student Jillian Baugh, who organized the first social work volunteers and faculty and alumni preceptors for the clinic last fall.

The clinic experience augments community field placements already required of social work students, who gain hands-on learning while providing service to more than 350 Northeast Ohio organizations.

Garcia, who took on Baugh’s role, said the clinic volunteer experience provides an opportunity to work with two other professions.

“Together,” she said, “we provide well-rounded services that ultimately benefit our patients.”

Luebbers, with Jesse Honsky and Carol Savrin, serve as faculty advisers from the medical and nursing schools, respectively. Andrea Porter, a clinical instructor and assistant dean for student services, is the social work school’s adviser. Lisa Navacruz, who serves as a faculty preceptor, has worked with the students every Saturday since the clinic opened.